In the past week, Phoenix Rising FC executives have conducted several focus groups on the logistics of MLS expansion. Each group consisted of 12-15 people with a single moderator, and I attended a session late Wednesday afternoon. Here are my takeaways:
Disclaimer: Nothing discussed in this or any other focus group is finalized. The ownership group is still in the process of deciding how to build an MLS stadium. Ideas proposed by the moderator do not equal ideas endorsed by the ownership group. Certain details from the event have been withheld at my discretion.
The 90-minute discussion began with the moderator asking audience members for feedback on the current match day experience. We expressed general satisfaction with our current setup, but cited several areas that need improvement. Among these were the PA system, traffic flow, the lack of tailgating in the lot, a desire for more beer options and an official team store.
The discussion then shifted to a potential MLS stadium. Our moderator stunned the group when she asked for our opinions of potential stadium sites in Mesa and south central Phoenix. Not surprisingly, group members unanimously agreed that the current location was the most accessible and safest location for an MLS stadium.
As for stadium appearance, the moderator assured us there will be shade and cooling technology to give fans a comfortable match-day experience. Stadium planners are also considering technology to keep the playing surface cool for players. Members of the group want the stadium to be partially open though, so fans can enjoy views of nearby mountains and sunsets. There was also widespread agreement that the stadium capacity should be between 20,000-25,000.
Next came ideas for the supporters section. The moderator presented images of several MLS supporters’ sections, all of which have safe-standing sections. The consensus favored something similar to the designs for Orlando City and LAFC, two stadiums with steep standing sections and rails with cup-holders. If Phoenix Rising FC gets an MLS franchise, the arena will have a safe-standing section. The group also favored a supporters section that is close to the pitch, so that players can interact with fans after goals and matches.
Concessions were another subject for discussion. The moderator stressed a desire to provide fans with high-quality food options, group members added that the beer selection could be improved. All parties concluded that a Chase Field-esque mix of affordable concessions and higher-end items was a solid model to emulate.
Two hot-button issues emerged towards the end of the meeting. First came the issue of luxury boxes. Members of our group, which included both hardcore La Furia Roja supporters and several midfield ticket holders, agreed that putting boxes at field level towards the middle of the pitch would harm stadium atmosphere and look bad on camera. The moderator responded that the team would be able to generate more revenue with that arrangement, as seen in Rio Grande Valley and in San Jose. We will see if stadium designers can reach a compromise on this issue that benefits all parties. Perhaps some field level box seats on the non-TV camera side, or the conventional boxes in higher levels?
Lastly, the moderator announced proposed MLS season ticket prices by giving a range with a low and high number. For example, supporters section tickets would cost a proposed $20-30 per match. While I cannot disclose numbers for the other sections, there will be price increases at all seating levels. Some expressed concern about being priced out of season tickets. Others felt the prices were fairly reasonable, especially at the lower end of each section estimate.
Conclusion: This was an incredibly eye-opening event. A massive thanks goes to Phoenix Rising FC for putting these focus groups together. Hopefully the ownership group and stadium planners will use feedback from our group and the others to create a field of dreams in the desert.